Talk about cruel coincidence.
The Bulls were in Orlando, Fla. to play a game that never happened on March 11, the night that commissioner Adam Silver suspended the NBA season. And they won’t be in Orlando in July when the league attempts to restart following the COVID-19-induced hiatus.
Nothing has been easy about the Bulls’ 2019-20 season, which makes the unprecedented nature of the offseason seem fitting. Roughly nine months between games for a young team that features a new management regime is hardly ideal.
“I do agree with you that not playing puts us in a competitive disadvantage,” executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said on a Saturday conference call. “But I think there are creative ways to (stay sharp).”
By all accounts, and in their own words, Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley thrive on relationships, face-to-face interaction and living in the gym. Until Wednesday, when the Bulls followed city guidelines to open the Advocate Center for voluntary, socially distanced workouts, they never even had that opportunity.
Karnisovas said he and Eversley are scheduled to be in Chicago soon. The problem is, the players don’t have to be. That’s why there’s talk between the eight teams excluded from the restart and both the league and players association about alternative methods to navigate an unprecedented offseason.
“We’re getting now on calls and we’re having conversations about how we can develop our players and how we can have a structure in place to get some practicing and possibly some scrimmaging possibly in the offseason to catch up to those teams that are going to be playing. The work obviously never stops,” Karnisovas said. “I informed the players that we will inform them depending on what the league is going to allow us to do this summer, and we’re going to go from there.”
This type of communication with players has been consistent since the Bulls hired the new management regime.
“They've been great.They've both been keeping us abreast of everything that's going on, especially during the time where we were trying to figure out if we could get back in the gym or not or during the time where they were figuring out who's going to go to Orlando,” Thaddeus Young said. “Arturas is very, very good as far as communicating. Marc is great… Obviously, this is a situation where they can't really do their job because we're not playing basketball, and I'm sure they're anxious to really get on the job and get a grasp of things. But they've been great as far as reaching out and talking to us all and making sure they're staying in sync with us.”
Zach LaVine agreed.
“You don’t have any expectations going into something new. But as a player, it’s always good to have them reach out to you. They did that the first day,” LaVine said. “Arturas reached out to me and I’ve had several conversations with him, him just checking in to see how we’re doing, having Zoom calls, text meetings. He has called me individually as well. Same with Marc.
“A lot of it is just getting to know the team. Some of it was just general conversation like, ‘How you’re doing. What have you been doing in Seattle? How are things out there concerning coronavirus and [racial injustice protests] that have been going on.’ It’s been good — general conversation, workouts, what’s been going on with the team, why this didn’t work, why this worked. They’ve been extremely involved.”
Karnisovas said the ideal scenario, which would have to be agreed upon between the league and players association, would be to hold team-oriented activities like practices and possibly scrimmages with other non-bubble teams.
“There’s going to be a lot of player development and individual work, but I also would like to see some team activity, as well, because there’s so much time away from the game of basketball,” Karnisovas said. “Just playing games, I would look for the league to see something like that, to simulate something like that this summer.”
In a typical offseason, teams can’t mandate players to remain in-market. In a TV interview in his native Czech Republic, Tomas Satoransky said he may practice with a team in Prague during the offseason. Karnisovas said Lauri Markkanen has remained in Chicago for now but his family has been back and forth to Finland. LaVine is in Seattle. Young said he’s in Texas for now.
“We’re exchanging a lot of conversations and proposals with the league,” Karnisovas said. “The players in the market, they’ve already been coming into the Advocate Center for individual work. So hopefully I’ll be able to see them. The players out of the market, we’ll continue talking to them. And once we have more direction from the league, we’ll propose a bunch of plans to our players for the summer.
“I’m confident because I think eight teams is a huge part of our league. And I think the league’s interest is to support those teams as well as they can. The proposed structure of some practices and some scrimmages that we would like to see this summer, I think it’s not too much to ask."